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London, England

Posted on September 18th, 2013

The Thames River

The Thames River has gone through a history of neglect and terrible pollution, then rebound into a river that was cleaned up significantly, but unfortunately today faces the threat of falling back into its old ways. The Thames is also the tongue of London, which brings fresh air into the city.


London has a history of dumping its raw sewage into the Thames River. By the early 1700s, nearly every home in London had a cesspit beneath it and the commensurate foul odors. Raw sewerage went directly into the Thames, which was also used for drinking water. In the late 1800’s the river became so toxic from human waste that when the SS Princess Alice went down, hundreds died after being in the polluted Thames. Drastic action was needed following the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858 when the smell was so bad that the problem reached crisis point.


The government called in top engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, to create an underground complex of sewers.
Originally built to serve two and a half million people, the sewers were already serving four million by their completion. Today, those same tunnels serve a city of almost 8 million people and counting.

As Mark gazes over this now clean river he recalls that the Thames is a far better river today than when he was last on it 40 years ago. A local outdoor enthusiast and friend reminds Mark that the people of London have done a lot of work to get the river to this point. Thousands of people volunteer every year to clean up the banks and also the river.


London still relies upon a Victorian drainage system that collects both sewage and water runoff. During heavy rainfall, the increased water volume drives this system to full capacity. Excess waste is discharged straight into the Thames at 57 different outlets. Tens of thousands of fish die when the sewage overflows or fertilizers leach into the river; this is not acceptable.